The city and school district's work to start a master planning process for Cubberley Community Center crept forward on Thursday, when city and school leadership agreed that the two entities should jointly issue a request for proposals for an outside design consultant to help facilitate the long-stalled process.
At a city-school liaison committee meeting, City Manager Jim Keene said the city is ready — more so than the school district — to start the process of planning for the future joint use of the sprawling 35-acre site on Middlefield Road. Superintendent Max McGee said the school district is held up by uncertainty about exact enrollment growth projections and other factors that will determine what the district will most need the facilities for. The school district owns 27 acres of the 4000 Middlefield Road campus and the city, 8 acres.
"We're inverting the schedule now," Keene said Thursday. "We need to move. That says to the school district: Let's move together. Let's not wait."
It's been just over a year since Keene and McGee symbolically committed to a joint master planning process, two-and-a-half years since the city and district signed a new five-year lease for Cubberley and five years since the Cubberley Citizens Advisory Committee came up with recommendations for how the site could best serve the community in the future.
School board and city council members who serve on the city-school liaison committee expressed support Thursday for issuing a request for proposals (RFP), eager to overcome obstacles that have stymied progress so far, including figuring out how to create a truly collaborative planning process, rather than two parallel processes.
Acknowledging that "we may be the biggest part of the obstacle," McGee said for the district, those barriers are primarily uncertainty about future enrollment needs and funding.
"On our side, we need to figure out how to engage in a master planning process that recognizes the uncertainty we have but that doesn't block our ability to do that," said Board of Education Vice President Ken Dauber. "I think that's the task in front of us if we don't want to pay the opportunity cost of not being able to engage with the city."
From the school district's perspective, McGee said Cubberley could be used in a myriad of still-undefined ways: to open a small alternative high school, a combination elementary and middle school or a middle and high school; to house the district office, opening up the current site at 25 Churchill Ave. for educational uses or faculty housing; or to bring back special education families who are being sent out of Palo Alto Unified for services at a "high cost" to the district. McGee said Cubberley is the "only site that's possibly big enough for a secondary school" and the district wants to preserve the option of using it if enrollment spikes in coming years.
Alison Cormack, a Palo Alto parent and chair of the city's library bond campaign, said she was "skeptical" the district would need Cubberley for a traditional school in the future. Cormack recently penned a guest opinion piece in the Palo Alto Weekly on this topic.
On Thursday, she urged city and school leaders to think out of the box for how to best make use of Cubberley.
"I don't think anything should be off the table at this point," Cormack said.
Keene also suggested the city and school district consider issuing a joint bond measure to pay for the eventual revamp of Cubberley.
The district does not intend to sell any of its acreage at Cubberley, McGee said. Palo Alto Unified also just began the process of updating its own facilities master plan, which will guide the next 10 years of construction and updates districtwide.
Staff said they would return at the next city-school liaison committee meeting on May 18 with an update on the RFP.
Cubberley is currently occupied by a range of nonprofit tenants with short-term leases, including more recently, senior service-provider Avenidas.